[Editorial] Why is Seoul happy to sit by as Japan whitewashes history of forced labor?

Posted on : 2023-09-21 16:41 KST Modified on : 2023-09-21 16:41 KST
The good-faith measures that Yoon assured Koreans were coming after letting Japan off the hook for compensating victims of forced labor are nowhere in sight
The Industrial Heritage Information Center in Tokyo’s Shinjuku District displays a panoramic video of Hashima Island, also known as Battleship Island, known as a site where Koreans were used for forced labor. (courtesy of the Industrial Heritage Information Center)
The Industrial Heritage Information Center in Tokyo’s Shinjuku District displays a panoramic video of Hashima Island, also known as Battleship Island, known as a site where Koreans were used for forced labor. (courtesy of the Industrial Heritage Information Center)

Japan’s attempts to erase the history of Korean forced labor at industrial facilities in Japan, including Hashima Island, also known as Battleship Island, are becoming more and more outrageous.

The promises that the Japanese government made when Hashima Island and other industrial facilities were registered on the World Heritage list in 2015 are going up in smoke.

Having absolved Japan of all responsibility for forced labor with its roundabout plan to compensate Korean victims, the Yoon Suk-yeol administration is sitting back and waiting for Japan to take good-faith measures in response.

The Hankyoreh’s Tokyo correspondent visited the Industrial Heritage Information Center in Tokyo, Japan, on Wednesday and found that information has been added to several exhibits to claim that there was no discrimination against Koreans at sites of Japan’s industrialization.

An envelope of a Korean worker’s paycheck from a shipyard unrelated to the 23 modern Japanese industrial facilities registered as UNESCO World Heritage sites, including Hashima Island, was displayed as though to demonstrate that Korean workers were treated fairly.

At this exhibit dedicated to Japan’s industrialization, there is little information about the forced mobilization of Koreans, nor the harsh working conditions and discrimination that Koreans faced. Testimonies that claim “Koreans were not discriminated against” are displayed in the most prominent places.

The only addition related to the forced mobilization of Koreans is a QR code that can be scanned to view a video of a Japanese representative’s remarks made in English at a 2015 meeting of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, in which they acknowledged that “there were a large number of Koreans and others who were brought against their will and forced to work” and promised to make “appropriate measures” to remember the victims.

Japan made a point of highlighting these new parts of the exhibit to UNESCO members, and the World Heritage Committee issued a decision on Friday that was somewhat positive about Japan’s recent measures, calling on the country to follow up on its promises.

During this committee, the level of criticism of Japan was significantly toned down from the last meeting, when the committee expressed “strong regrets” over Japan’s lack of explanation about its forced mobilization of Koreans.

As Japan’s historical revisionism has become more sophisticated and severe, the Japanese media has reported that UNESCO’s positive assessment of Japan’s measures is due to the improvement of bilateral relations between South Korea and Japan promoted by the Yoon administration.

In the name of improving bilateral relations, Yoon ignored the wishes of the victims of forced labor who had won their case in the South Korean Supreme Court and gave Japan immunity through his “third-party payment plan” whereby a foundation affiliated with the South Korean government would pay out the liabilities of Japanese corporations that profited from forced labor.

Yoon then said he would get “good-faith measures” from the Japanese government in return. While the Yoon administration remains silent and complicit in Japan’s distortions of history, Japan is going beyond Hashima and accelerating its push for the Sado mining complex, where more than 1,500 Koreans were forced to provide grueling labor, to be listed as a World Heritage site.

Where on earth are we to find these “good-faith measures” that Yoon has so loudly proclaimed are on their way?

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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